Human birth is the most miraculous, transformational, and mysterious event of our lives. It is also an experience that is shared by every single member of the human race. The birth experience indelibly imprints itself in the lives of both the mother who is giving birth and the baby who is being born.
A gentle birth begins by focusing on the mother’s experience and by bringing together a woman’s emotional dimensions and her physical and spiritual needs. A gentle birth respects the mother’s pivotal role, acknowledging that she knows how to birth her child in her own time and in her own way, trusting her instincts and intuition. In turn, when a mother gives birth gently, she and everyone present acknowledge that the baby is a conscious participant in his or her own birth. The experience empowers the birthing woman, welcomes the newborn child into a peaceful and loving environment, and bonds the family. The goal of a gentle birth is to reclaim the wonder and joy that are inherent in the beginning of a new life.
Gentle births occur throughout the world: in homes, where births have traditionally been natural and without intervention; in birthing centers, which are becoming more popular as women demand greater freedom in giving birth; and in some hospitals that are responding to the needs and desires of today’s families. Women worldwide are seeking more natural, family-centered ways to birth their children and experience this passage into motherhood as life affirming, without the suffering and trauma that have been traditionally associated with labor and delivery.
Ingredients for a Gentle Birth
Before describing the important elements of gentle birth, I want to point out that these are merely suggestions. Gentle birth is not a method or a set of rules that must be followed. Rather, it is an approach to birth that incorporates a woman’s own values and beliefs. Every birth is a powerful experience--sometimes painful, always transformational. Each birth is as unique as the woman giving birth and the baby being born. There is no illustrated owner’s manual.
Many women’s early social conditioning that makes them believe they are unable to give birth normally must be replaced with a newfound understanding of the philosophy of and the ideas behind gentle birth. When women realize that their bodies know how to give birth and that their babies know how to be born, they gain confidence. Only then is gentle birth a possibility.
A gentle birth takes place when a woman is supported by the people she chooses to be with during this most intimate time. She needs to be loved and nurtured by those around her so she can feel comfortable and secure enough to follow her natural instincts. A birthing woman must be trusted so she in turn can trust herself, her body, her partner, her baby, and this process of giving birth. Her intuition must be respected. During a natural gentle birth, a woman feels and senses the power of the birth and uses this energy to transform every part of her own being. A gentle birth is not rushed. The baby emerges at its own pace and in its own time, received into the hands of those who love and recognize it for the divine gift that it is.
Some of the most important ingredients for a natural gentle birth are described on the following pages. Each woman has individual needs and preferences, so again, use these elements only as guidelines.
The education that best prepares a woman for a gentle birth is one that empowers her through information and a belief in her ability to give birth naturally. The original childbirth educators were mothers who labored in front of their children and included them in the folk medicine of the day. Pregnant women asked their mothers about a pain or an ache, and the mothers responded by saying, “Oh, I had that with all three of you.” For the daughter to experience her mother giving birth is worth a whole course in childbirth education. In sharing her mother’s labor and giving birth, she learns about the essence of this miracle firsthand.
Today childbirth educators have taken over the job of mothers whose memories of birth were obliterated with drugs, unconsciousness, and the medical treatments of the day. There are many styles of education and preparation for birth. One of the most important components for all methods of childbirth preparation is a healthy attitude. Women pay attention to their bodies throughout their pregnancy by eating healthful foods, avoiding stress, sticking to a physical exercise program, being cautious about exposing themselves to harmful chemicals or toxins, and maintaining a positive emotional outlook. While preparing for a gentle birth, it’s important to keep an open mind as to how the birth will actually proceed. Flexibility is essential, because in some cases medical intervention may be necessary.
I recommend that a woman look into her attitudes, ideas, and beliefs about birth. This may include exploring her feelings about her sexuality, her relationship with the baby’s father, and her relationships with her parents. A woman who is comfortable with her sexuality will feel less inhibited sexually during the birth. A woman who has examined her own birth will not be likely to repeat the pattern of that birth in the one she is preparing for. A woman who has a good sense of herself will not be easily swayed away from what she knows to be right for herself. A woman who is at peace with her partner and her family members will find comfort in and draw strength from those bonds and will want to include those people in the birthing experience.
Lamaze International, Fall/Winter 2001